By Linda Kor —
Winslow has a rich history involving the railroad. Prior to the arrival of the railway, the area was a desolate desert land of cowboys, ranchers and small settlements. As the country began to push further west, mostly due to the California gold rush, there became a need to get people and merchandise from the east to the west faster and more efficiently.
With that need came the steam engine train. As a road of metal and heavy wood beams was laid from east to west, towns began to take shape along the rail line. Since steam engines could travel only so far before needing water and fuel, wherever a train made its regular stop, a town grew. Information gathered by Winslow resident Barbara Arthur and the Old Trails Museum in Winslow shows that one of those towns was Winslow, whose name came from General Edward F. Winslow, president of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, and half-owner of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, predecessor of a portion of what is now the Santa Fe System Lines.
By 1881, the railway had reached Winslow. It continued westward only to be stopped short at Canyon Diablo when it was discovered that the bridge that had been constructed was a few inches too short to span the canyon. A small community was built where the bridge was to be constructed and workers remained there for two years until the bridge was finally complete.
As the railway began to transport people and goods, more and more people came to Winslow. The town served as the division headquarters for the Santa Fe, bringing in more workers and a need to expand facilities. The headquarters remained there until 2001 when it was moved to Belen, N.M.
Fire was an enemy of the railroad, and it took several buildings and trains over the years. In 1895, a wooden roundhouse burned in a spectacular fire in which eight or nine steam engines were destroyed along with all the machine shops. The second roundhouse was built on the site of the present La Posada. The third roundhouse was built in 1918 at the west end of the yard and is still used today. The turntable was enlarged in 1921 from 90 feet to 105 feet in order to accommodate the larger engines.
In the early days ice houses were used to keep produce transported in the railway cars cool as they crossed the country. In 1916 the original ice house at the Winslow yard burned down and then when ice was replaced by refrigeration, the workers, who were primarily Japanese, no longer had jobs and many left the area. Those who remained left or were taken to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
A critical factor for both steam engines and people is the need for water. As a result, a pumphouse was constructed at Clear Creek in 1898 by Santa Fe that provided both the railroad and the community with water. The pump was fueled by coal and featured a 1,000-step staircase from the creek, where the locals enjoyed picnics and outings.
During the late 1880s early 1900s, the town continued to grow along with the railroad. There were mechanical crews that worked at the roundhouse, machine shop, blacksmith shop and pipefitting. Steam engines required a lot of maintenance, so these shops operated around the clock since all parts had to be made by hand.
In 1889, Atlantic and Pacific Railway officials made the decision to establish “reading rooms” and sleeping quarters for train and engine crews after a stockholders report for that year stated, “There are no accommodations for men when off duty and they are compelled to seek society by congregating at places of public resort.” Shortly after that, in 1894, the Harvey Girls came to Winslow and went to work at the Winslow Depot, which burned to the ground in 1899. Two years earlier the first Harvey House was built in Winslow. A fire destroyed the building in 1914 and it was rebuilt. When La Posada Harvey House was built in 1930, the older building was used for railroad offices and was torn down in 1964.
As the community of Winslow grew, so did the desire to attract visitors to the town. The World Famous Santa Fe Indian Band was sponsored by Santa Fe in order to promote tourism. It performed as a host band of the Arizona State Fair every year, played at President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration and appeared on the Art Linkletter show before disbanding after 40 years of service in 1963.
Up until the 1930s, the only way to go across town was to cross the railroad tracks, resulting in many accidents for wagons, horses and autos. In 1936 construction began on an underpass that involved the removal of 14,500 cubic yards of earth, pouring 3,000 cubic years of concrete, and the placement of 180 tons of steel in the ceiling and walls. The cost for the underpass came in at approximately $150,000 and it took eight months to complete.
As the years passed technology began to play a key role in the railroad industry. As trains went from steam to diesel fuel, and new brake systems and other devices were developed, jobs began to go away. Up until around 1960, a train crew consisted of a conductor, a fireman, an engineer and three brakemen. From 1960 to 1989 that was reduced to a conductor, an engineer and two brakemen. From then until 1992, it was reduced again by one brakeman, and now the train crew consists of a conductor and engineer.
Not only did the train crews see a reduction of staff, there was a movement away from Winslow of other critical personnel. The dispatcher control left Winslow, and after several relocations is now in Fort Worth, Texas.
There were 14 passenger trains that stopped in Winslow each day. The odd numbers were westbound, while the even numbers went east. While passengers paid for their passage, hauling mail was what made a profit for the railroad. The names of the passenger trains were The Scout, The California Limited, Baggage and Mail, The Chief, El Capitan, The Grand Canyon Limited and The Super Chief, which made the run from Chicago to Los Angeles in 39.5 hours.
There was only one event in which the entire railroad system shut down for one minute. That event took place at 10:01 a.m. Mountain Standard Time on Nov. 25, 1963. It was the time set aside to pay honor to President John F. Kennedy. The cost of such an endeavor, even for one minute, must have been quite steep.
This week Winslow celebrates its railroad history with Winslow Railroad Days, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Sunday (April 20-22) at the Hubble Trading Post, located at 523 W. Second St., and the Snowdrift Art Space, located at 120 W. Second St. The events will include model railroad displays with more than 2,000 feet of track, a Harvey Girls presentation all day Friday at the Hubble Trading Post and movies played at the Snowdrift Art Space throughout the entire event. There will also be a presentation by the Santa Fe Model and Historical Society on Saturday at La Posada Hotel, located at 303 E. Second St. There is no cost to attend any of these events.